(Available from Action Books)


When you’re a child in the suburbs, you take your art where you can get it. As a five-year-old, I lived in the New Jersey suburbs during the launching of the oleaginous perma-musical Cats. The tagline, on radio, TV, poster, newspaper AD and billboard, was, “Cats, Now and Forever.”

Now and Forever.

A claim only Art could make— Art, and the forever chemicals glowering in the gutter like a Datsun parked at the Newark Airport, fuming at the sun.

Similarly, when I was in Junior High, the musical Les Misérables swept the suburbs, from which we had moved away and to which, like hair to a drain, we had recently returned. A friend’s parents went to see the show and we pored over the souvenir playbill in the back of their mini-van. Somewhere in the ephemera ran the tagline, “Will the future ever arrive?”

This was a new question for me, the middle child of middle-class parents in middle America.

Will the future ever arrive?

A question only Art could ask— Art and the forever chemicals who will iridically enrobe us and improve our vision as we prepare distractedly for our final descent.




Kim Hyesoon’s “Road to Kimp’o Landfill,” translated by Don Mee Choi, opens Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers and begins with what I take to be a femme speaker’s act of refusal to sing the songs of the dead—

Cut my hair
don’t want to pull out
the names etched into my hair that grows daily

But some tasks cannot be refused, and as rain, garbage, and hair fall from the sky

I kissed in a place where garbage fell down like rain
I kissed where I vomited all night long
Every time I sang, vomit flew in

Here song, vomit, inspiration, garbage, hair, all change places around the speaker’s mouth. The repetition of verb “I kissed” actually draws attention to all the things the mouth can do besides kissing– vomiting, singing. Both song and vomit interrupt the mouth who would like its habitual verb to be ‘kiss’. The mouth becomes a site of egress and ingress. The mouth becomes a road, like the road to Kimp’o landfill, the roads that run all over Seoul, and via tunnels through the mountains. Unsurprisingly, in this uneasy set-up of violation and spasming logic,

[I] had morning sickness, then had a smoke
My poetry books burned
Three hundred million babies were born
One hundred million of the young and the old died
The day I took the pills

There is a logic of contraction and inversion here, between destruction and birth, young and old, alive and dead. As with song and vomit, everything is travelling the same road, and that road runs through the speaker’s body, a site of ingress and egress for birth, death, art, waste. Everything can change places with its counterpart, and be multiplied, or be collapsed; the hyperbolic scale of “three hundred million,” “One hundred million,” collapses and produces the cosmic singularity of “The day I took the pills.” It is the role of the speaker to endure all these collapses and expansions, and by such contractions continually whelp more of the poem’s delirious imagery. Finally,

From the forest, mosquitoes swarmed
and dug into my scrawny caved-in chest
Born in the 20th century, I was on my way
to die in the 21st century

Can we really say ‘Finally’ about a conclusion like this? Or is the speaker, and the poet, and the prophet, and the shaman, as a body birthing speech, art, futurity, the dead, simply made to walk this Vantablack path which goes through her own body, to endure, beyond refusal, this endless reproductive cycle, this radical recycling, this making-more-of, this posthumicity?

“The Road to Kimp’o Landfill” is the first poem that made me suspect there might be something after the end of the world. It was for me a breathtaking and irresistible initiation into a Kim Hyesoon’s poetics, its impossible ability to bear more in tighter and tighter spaces, to delimit yet to be limitless. Inflation, collapse, inversion, refusal, forbearance— and all right in the width of an atom, a tip of the spoon. In her magnificent essay, “In the Oxymoronic World,” included in All the Garbage of the World, Unite!, and again translated to tensile, tenacious English by Don Mee Choi, Kim writes

The ether of a poem, the emptiness, the poesy exists inside the movement of language. The trace of the movement can only be drawn as a formless form, like the way our brain activities reveal themselves as waves, the way electric currents flow between     you and me. I’ll call such wave motion the “moving dot.”

The moving dot can be extinguished in an instant, yet it contains all information, even eternity. Try placing a dot on the undulating waves. The moment I extend my arm, the dot is already gone.

The moving dot is infinitely small because it moves, yet at the same time it is infinitely large. Inside the infinite smallness the self becomes infinitely tiny and dies. Inside the infinite largeness the self becomes infinitely huge and dies. The extremes of     the infinitely small and infinitely large are the non-self. The non-self is required by the speaker and the listener of a poem. Poetry is a modality that follows the path of the discourse and through that path is able to conceive an empty space. To say that the dot     does not have form or even a size because it is infinitely small is no different from saying that the dot is infinitely large and therefore is the universe.

“The Road to Kimp’o Landfill” is not Kim’s biggest poem; it sits compactly on a single page. And yet in its oxymoronicness I find a reluctantly omniresourceful, flexing locus for Art’s labors, a moving dot to which I return only to find myself unsteadily embarking, again and again, this flexing, cosmic orbital, which returns me always to my point of embarkation..

& so it dawned on me, and so it dawns on me:

There might be something after the end of the world.






The Road to Kimp’o Landfill

by Kim Hyesoon tr. Don Mee Choi


Cut my hair short today
I don’t want to pull out
the names etched onto my hair that grows daily
As rain fell, garbage bins from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th floor
must have been turned upside down
Hair fell profusely
I kissed in a place where garbage came down like rain
I kissed where I vomited all night long
Every time I sang, vomit flew in
I turned the garbage upside down in my room
and had morning sickness, then had a smoke
My poetry books burned
Three hundred million babies were born
one hundred million of the young and the old died
The day I took the pills
I walked out the gate in the middle of my bath
Black plastic bags flew higher than a floc of sparrows
The discarded sewing machine was like the head of a horse
The sound of Mother’s sewing machine
filled the holes in my body one by one
I tore off my swollen breasts and tossed them
beneath Mother’s foot on the pedal
A forest gave off a foul smell, carried contagious diseases
It burned of fever during the night
A busboy at brightly lit Motel Rose
threw out millions of sperm every night
From the forest, mosquitoes swarmed
and dug into my scrawny caved-in chest
Born in the 20th century, I was on my way
to die in the 21st century









In Joyelle McSweeney‘s dynamic body of work, lyric intensity becomes a means of investigating the world in all its toxic radiance. Her published works span poetry, prose, drama, translation, and criticism. Her debut volume The Red Bird (2001) inaugurated the Fence Modern Poets Series; her verse play Dead Youth, or, the Leaks (2012) inaugurated the Leslie Scalapino Prize for Innovative Women Playwrights; and her most recent double-collection, Toxicon and Arachne (2020), called a “frightening and brilliant book” by the New Yorker, was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Prize. Her influential volume The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults (2014) counters conventional ecopoetics by locating aesthetic and political possibility in such signature Anthropocene phenomena as mutation, contagion, contamination, and decay. She is a co-founder of Action Books, an international press which has built readerships for major poets from Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the US, while centering translators and the art of translation itself. In 2022, McSweeney was recognized with a Guggenheim fellowship as well as the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. McSweeney is a Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.